Prompt #20:

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I once received a fortune cookie that read: “Speak less of your plans, you’ll get more done.” What’s one project that you’ve been sitting on and thinking about but haven’t made progress on? What’s stopping you? What would happen if you actually went for it and did it?

(Prompt Author: Laura Kimball)

Response:

This has always been one of my FAVORITE quotes from Self-Reliance, and I love the lines that follow:

“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after your own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

When Emerson uses the words “greatness” and “meanness” here, he is not talking about good and bad people. He is making a distinction between a soul that soars and soul that remains low to the ground (a variation on an old definition of “mean”). I have always loved this quote, because I so very much agree with the spirit of it, which is first, “Live and let live” and second: keep your independence and stay true to yourself and your passions even when other people are trying to pigeonhole you or tell you what to do.

We are a culture which thrives on labels. Nerd. Jock. English person. Math person. Goth. Band kid. Liberal. Conservative. Loser. Prom King.

I resist most labels. In fact, I loathe them. I think a person can have a collection of seemingly disparate traits. In fact, I believe a passionate life is one in which a person explores widely, has  great many interests, develops hobbies and talents in many areas, searches out her own philosophy, and maintains an element of surprise. For example, people often think of me as just an “English person” because that happens to be my major. Well, after all, I needed to pick something. But I would have majored in at least a half dozen disciplines in college if I could have. Most people are surprised to hear that I really LOVE math and have taken quite a bit of it. I am also a big science geek. And history… One of the most inimical things we can do as educators and as a culture is to strip students of their intellectual flexibility. Especially in the high school setting, students who loved math would come into my English classroom distrusting. We have taught them that English and math don’t combine, that we all have to be one or the other, but nothing could be further from the the actual truth. They were always surprised when I could make math analogies for them, or when I would encourage them to use science in their writing. Or when I could talk with them about calculus, or help them with pre-calc homework.

I could actually keep going on and on about this… But my point is, our culture loves to label, takes security in it. Maybe we feel safer when we think we have someone figured out. We label ourselves, too, in an attempt to keep order, to keep us from searching out the new, from challenging ourselves. We must resist these labels, fight them to the death.

I do not believe only certain parts of life are meant for me. I believe ALL passions in life are meant for me, if I want to claim them. That is one of the many ideals that I use this blog to celebrate. It is one of the truths I hope to leave behind me when I am gone.

So one project that I have been sitting on and thinking about? Well, I have already talked about being in a musical and writing a book… so, I need a different project for this prompt. Here’s one: I have been thinking about attempting to sew a dress for Katie for about a year.

Last year at this time, I made her two ballet skirts. It was doable, although I still have much to refine in my developing set of sewing skills. Yet I am learning.

What has been holding me back: uncertainty about my sewing skills, other projects (this has been the year of the blanket), time (this summer has a few sewing projects booked already). However, I think I will make it my goal to make her a little fall jumper.

 

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